Thursday, February 12, 2015

Cozy Mystery Blog Tour: Author Guest Post, Review & Giveaway: License to Dill (Pickled & Preserved #2) by Mary Ellen Hughes

From the author of The Pickled Piper comes another Pickled and Preserved Mystery...

Piper Lamb knows how to make fruits and vegetables keep for months. Unfortunately, it’s the people around her who are expiring too soon…

After her fiancé left her, Piper came to Cloverdale to rebuild her life and open up her shop, Piper’s Picklings, to sell pickles and preserves. When her ex decides to drop in for a visit—just as things are heating up between her and a local Christmas tree farmer—Piper finds herself in a jam.
But there are other visitors to worry about…

An Italian soccer team is set to play the Cloverdale All-Stars in an exhibition game. Their manager, Raffaele Conti, was a bitter rival of Piper’s dill supplier, local farmer Gerald Standley. After Conti is found dead in Standley’s field, Piper must work to clear Gerald’s name and find out who relished killing Raffaele before the town is soured by another death.



When I started creating my Pickled and Preserved series, one of the first things I needed to decide was the setting. A real town or a fictional one? Large or small? Well, that was easy. Since I was writing a cozy mystery—which almost always takes place in small towns— my setting would be a fictional small town.

For an author, having a fictional town makes things so much simpler: no need to check maps for names of streets that intersect at such-and-such place, or wonder how far from City Hall the court house might be. I can put City Hall wherever I want, and build the court house—or any house—any place I choose. I just can’t move them once I put them in place. That tends to confuse things.

But with a small town—real or fictional—there comes a problem: you start to run out of people. Think about it. If in every book at least one person is murdered—often two—and a third person, the murder, goes off to prison, then the town population is steadily reduced with every book.

Jessica Fletcher’s small town of Cabot Cove began to have this problem. With that long running series, the population began to shrink down to Jessica, the sheriff, and a few regularly-appearing friends—none of whom anyone wanted to kill.

The TV show solved that by sending Jessica off to the big city. It certainly broadened their options, but it also, in my opinion, lost much of the cozy flavor. Jessica was glamoured-up (no more bike-riding around town in floppy clothes), and she acquired more sophisticated friends. I don’t want changes like that to happen to my town of Cloverdale, NY, so this is what I’ve done and intend to do to avoid them:

Since my protagonist, Piper Lamb, was new to Cloverdale when the series began with The Pickled Piper, she definitely couldn’t meet everyone at once. My town is large enough so that involving twenty or so characters with each story insures that a new set of twenty or thirty will be available for the next story.

Of course, I plan for certain characters to be in every story, such as Piper’s Aunt Judy and Uncle Frank, and her assistant Amy Carlyle, along with Amy’s father Sheriff Carlyle. Nate Purdy is Amy’s boyfriend, and they seem to be on the path toward marriage, so Nate appears in the first two Pickled and Preserved books. But, as we all know, anything can happen to relationships, so who knows if he’ll be around in more? The same with Piper’s boyfriend, Will. He seems a steady sort, and their relationship has been growing, but again, who knows what the future will bring with Will?

Cloverdale, like most places, is a town in flux. People move away and new residents move in. Another way to keep my fictional population from being decimated by murders is to insure that new neighbors move in—not necessarily to the very homes vacated by my victims or murderers, but you know what I mean.

Piper could always take a brief vacation (maybe a honeymoon?) someday. This would give Cloverdale a little rest from crime (and let Sheriff Carlyle take a breather, too), but I might want to pack up a few of my Cloverdale regulars to go along as well. A bus tour? Cruise? Both work, and that would keep the town population in a nice, healthy state.

In LICENSE TO DILL, I brought a whole busload of visitors to Cloverdale. This was an Italian soccer team that came to play a tournament against the Cloverdale All Stars. That plumped up the population a good bit for a while, and though somebody was murdered, I eventually kept somebody from the bus behind, so that evened out nicely.

However, if worse comes to worst and we’ve finally met everyone in the town, people stop moving there because of the high murder rate, and Piper can’t leave on a trip because the last ten surviving townspeople are begging for her help, I could perhaps, in desperation, create an alternate universe. Remember Fringe, the TV show that went that route? The entire cast of Fringe turned out to have doppelgangers in an alternate universe that Walter, the half-mad scientist, discovered the portal to. Even Walter had his mirror image, whom he called Walter-nate, and everyone’s twin was slightly different from the originals, some in a faintly evil way.

Could I do that to my town? Find a portal from Cloverdale to, um, New Cloverdale? Have Piper’s doppelganger fix marinated meats instead of pickles and turn Aunt Judy into a wicked stepmother instead of a loving aunt? Jessica Fletcher was only sent to New York, not outer space, to provide her with new murder victims and suspects. That worked for Cabot Cove. But Cloverdale, you see, is not Cabot Cove.

Hmm. A New Cloverdale. I wonder …

I’ve always loved to write, working on my school newspapers (in Milwaukee, Wisconsin) as well as writing stories for my own enjoyment. But it took a while for me to believe I could turn it into a profession. Along the way I got a degree in Medical Technology at Alverno College, worked in Clinical Chemistry at the National Institutes of Health, married and settled in Maryland to raise two children. But writing continued to tug at me, and one day I sent a 12-line humorous verse (with little hope) to The Saturday Evening Post. To my surprise, they bought it! Seeing my work in print with my name next to it in a national magazine was a huge boost and encouraged me to start sending out short stories. Before too long, some of them were actually published, too!

The next step was to write a full length novel, but I still had much to learn. Joining writers groups like the Maryland Writers Association, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime, helped immensely, along with participating in critique groups. After a few false starts and much re-writing, my first novel, Resort to Murder, was accepted and published by Avalon. Avalon then published my second novel, A Taste of Death, which featured the same protagonist, a young teacher whose vacations tended to become dangerous.

Having two published books to my name caught the interest of an agent, who encouraged me to create the Craft Corner mystery series. Wreath of Deception, String of Lies, and Paper-thin Alibi were soon published by Berkley Prime Crime. Berkley is also publishing my next series, the Pickled and Preserved mysteries, which begins with The Pickled Piper.

All of this happened, of course, over several years. A 12-line verse is a long way from a 70,000 word novel but it was my first big step towards earning the title of “mystery author.” My journey continues, with ups and downs and the occasional side step, but with plenty of enjoyment and wonderful companions along the way. I’m looking forward with great eagerness to what still lies ahead.

I was overjoyed that the second book in this series was being released and that I was able to read and review it for you!  I loved the first book, The Pickled Piper, falling in love with the characters and Cloverdale.  It's such a quaint little place with so many unique characters.  And I love Piper. She's quite the cozy heroine and her personality is catching!  

So when I began this book, I was expecting great things.  And great things I received!  Piper was just as wonderful.  The mystery was superbly written.  I loved the rivalry between the soccer manager and Piper's dill farming nemesis, Gerald.  I especially loved that when push came to shove, Piper was eager and determined to clear Gerald of any suspicion when the manager winds up dead!  It was a great example of how respectful people can be, even when there's competition in the mix.  Just a wonderful storyline.  

I also loved the supporting cast of characters.  Piper and her Aunt and Uncle, her assistant, Amy, and of course Nate.  Having them reappear in this book was so exciting, and it'll be fun to watch them grow as characters as well!  

Overall, I felt that this offering was even better than the first.  And truthfully?  I can't wait for number three!  

Rating: 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  All conclusions reached are my own.  

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